Op-ed columns and letters to the editor give you the opportunity to communicate directly to the public, including influential decision-makers, and shape or frame a debate in your own words.
Op-Ed Quick Tips
An op-ed is a column or guest essay published in the opinion section of a newspaper (Opposite the Editorial page). Most are between 500-750 words, and most outlets will take submissions by fax, e-mail or mail. View submission criteria for the top 100 newspapers.
- Op-eds should be timely, lively and present strong arguments. Editors want readers to say, “Wow, did you see that piece today?” They are looking for an unusual or provocative opinion on a current issue, a call-to-arms on a neglected topic, bite and wit, or an expert take on an issue by a well-known name. Op-ed page editors are not looking for event announcements, promotional materials or generic ideas.
- Determine your goal and audience. It could be starting a grassroots campaign, passing legislation, increasing funding, or educating the public on a crucial issue. Who could best help you in your goal? The general public? Teens? Seniors? Teachers? Nurses? Elected officials? Then, determine which news outlet can best deliver your op-ed to your targeted audience. Maybe it’s a local weekly paper or a professional journal, a state newspaper or a competitive national paper like USA Today or The New York Times.
- Figure out what you want to say and who can say it. Be able to summarize your point in a single, clear sentence. “By ratifying CEDAW, the U.S. can become a full partner in the effort to secure basic human rights of women and girls everywhere.” Find a well-known person ” your group’s president, a political leader, an expert or clergy member ” that can sign the column’s byline.
- Make your points compelling. The first sentence should grab the reader’s attention, and everything that follows should keep it. Illustrate your case with vivid examples and memorable facts. Defend it with a few strong arguments. Be short and specific. Use a lively, active voice. Give readers the minimum background they need to understand your case. Don’t bog them down with jargon or too many statistics. Mention your opponents’ claims and dismantle them with common sense, past history, contradicting facts, moral outrage ” whatever is needed.
- Make it timely. Link your op-ed to a holiday or anniversary, a newly-released report, or any relevant upcoming event.
- Make it short. Aim for a first draft of about 1,000 words. Go over what you’ve written. Eliminate unnecessary words, repetitious or stray ideas. Trim words, not ideas. Give the op-ed to a colleague and ask for suggestions and comments. Include those that make sense and edit it down to 750 words. Restate your key argument at the end.
- Submit the piece. E-mail and/or fax are the cheapest and fastest methods. Include a short cover letter with your name and title, affiliation, address, e-mail, and day and evening phone numbers. Op-ed contact information at the top 100 newspapers are listed here.
- Follow up and wait. Once it’s been sent, don’t call the newspaper or magazine repeatedly. If they’re going to publish your piece, they’ll call you. Be ready to make updates and revisions just before publication, especially if several weeks have passed since you submitted it.
- Don’t be discouraged. If your op-ed is rejected, don’t be discouraged. Newspapers and magazines receive a huge volume of submissions, all competing for space on the page. Send your op-ed to another news outlet. Keep writing and submitting pieces. Often, it is just a matter of your op-ed being at the right place at the right time.
- Leverage your success. If your piece does get published, send copies to funders, board members, reporters, elected officials, colleagues and other allies. An op-ed can serve as a springboard to talk-show appearances, panel discussions and a host of other opportunities.
Letters to the Editor Quick Tips
Letters to the editor allow you to offer a short rebuttal to an article or commentary, or add a crucial missing perspective. Most letters should be 150-250 words. Specific guidelines by news outlet are listed here.
- Keep it short. Respond quickly to the article you’ve read (note the headline and date it ran). Make your points short and specific. It’s better that you edit your words than the outlet cut what you consider to be your key point.
- Be factual but not dull. State important facts that back up your point. Humor helps.
- Pick a messenger. Find a well-known person to sign the byline. Identify the author’s expertise and/or affiliation. Include full contact information and day and evening phone numbers.
- Timing is everything. Because of the volume of submissions at national newspapers, getting in a letter the same day will increase your chances of getting published. Send it by e-mail in the body of the text, not as an attachment.
- Use alternate forums to respond. Many media outlets have online reader forums and interactive online discussions with reporters. Some news magazine shows encourage viewers to respond while a show is on air, and then read selected e-mails in real time. These e-mails should be short, clear and punchy ” only a few sentences will be used.